Widow Misses Sparring Partner

Training Partners 2001

Training Partners 2001

Woman Misses Fighting with Dead Husband. That’s a headline for The Inquirer.

“E, leave me alone,” Vic said. I watched his cheek muscles twitch and his jaw clench. He pulled his office door toward him to shut me out.

“I need to talk to you,” I said, pulling the door open and sticking my foot in it. My voice was shrill.

“You don’t want to talk. You want to fight. You’re trying to make me the bad guy. You’re being a bitch.”

“Why does it have to be your way?” Tears of helpless rage dripped down my cheeks.

green tomato target practice with the kids 1977

green tomato target practice with the kids 1977

“Because I don’t want to lose my temper over nothing,” he said. “Let’s talk later when we’ve cooled down. Give it a little space.” He stopped pulling on the door. Instead, he put his car keys in his pocket and grabbed a book.

“Where are you going?” I asked. “You can’t leave.”

“I’m going out for a while. You’re trying to get something going. I forgot to tell you I have to go to a faculty party on Sunday. It isn’t a catastrophe.”

Let me edit those last sentences:

“I’m going out for a while. You’re trying to get something going. We’ll finish painting the back porch later. It’s not a big deal.”

Vic loved this photo he took of me in 1976

Vic loved this photo he took of me in 1976

Or, “You’re trying to get something going. You want to pick a fight over nothing. I don’t want to argue.”

Or, “You don’t even have an issue. You just want to zap me.”

We called it the Lightening Rod Effect. Have a hard day and zap the one closest to you, the one who will love you despite bad behavior.

A barely conscious, primitive part of me liked to blow off steam with a hot argument. It didn’t happen often, but it happened. Vic had his fill of fights in his childhood and disliked emotional blowouts. He knew his anger well and didn’t let it push him around. He used it to get things done or stand up for a cause.

I had little experience with fighting. My parents never fought and neither did my grandparents, at least not in front of me. My mother handled conflict by freezing us to death.

Riding the Wall Street bull w/ Vic in 1991

With the Wall Street bull, 1991

Vic got my attention when he walked out the door that day many years ago. I’d gone too far. I ran after him.

“I’m sorry, Vic,” I said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Maybe it was my period or fatigue. Maybe a rejection or a headache. My technique was destructive and I knew it. I had pushed him away when I longed to connect.

“I’m sorry, Vic,” I said. “I’ll wait.”

He stopped at the car door and turned. “Thanks. Let’s talk later.” Then he went back inside.

We always talked later. I miss my trusted adversary or maybe it’s just the heart contact that came after a round of verbal sparring.


Even a “perfect” marriage has friction, but I never imagined I’d miss arguing. What have you learned from disagreements in relationships? For more about navigating marriage struggles see The Art of Argument: Essential Marriage Skills 101 and Pause Before Shrieking.

  1. How sweet: The story you tell and the motivation behind the telling.

    Love/hate – discord/harmony are two sides of the same coin. You probably miss the arguing most of all because you knew the disagreement would end well because of the trust you share. And Vic was your Sounding Board extraordinaire.

    I read somewhere that power struggles (when resolved) help restore the delicate balance of a relationship. (Whoever wrote it said it better than this, but you get the idea) I think you’ll like my post for next Wednesday “Remembrance of Things Past” related to loss but with an entirely different slant.

    You always appreciate your writings + you have the best photos!

    • You nailed it, Marian. We didn’t fight often, but when we did it was to clear the air and reconnect. The world of opposites (male-female, love-grief, calm-agitation) requires constant rebalancing as far as I can tell. After Vic became ill, we had few Lightning Rod events but I journaled about each of them and remember them. We would rather be in touch in a disagreeable way than not in touch at all, so when one of us felt remote or distracted, the other might do a little poking. I add these stories to the whole picture to make our relationship real and honest.

      I look forward to your post on Remembrance of Things Past.

  2. As usual, the realness here is so refreshing, Elaine.
    I love your quick stories/life lessons and the photos that show us the inside of Vic and Elaine. This is my favorite happy/sad place 🙂

    • Thanks, Patti. I have notebooks filled with slides and negatives taken by Vic. There is story-telling treasure in those images when I find time and guts to dig in. Thanks for naming this your favorite happy/sad place.
      I wonder what you and Paul fought about.

  3. Ah, Elaine. You’ve done it again. Described perfectly yet another one of those secondary losses ~ and one we marrieds often don’t appreciate until we’ve lost it. You are an amazing teacher. ♥

    • Thanks, Marty. I laughed when I realized I missed having a good argument with my love so we could blow off steam and reconnect. We’re not supposed to miss irritability and disagreement, but I do. Or a mess in the sink or unwashed laundry. I miss it all.

      I’m lucky to have you as an amazing teacher and an encouraging, generous friend.

  4. Perfectly explained Elaine. I am similar to you. I long to be heard when he’s not listening and as the heat escalates it inevitably turns into more. And then I find myself apologizing in the end sometimes forgetting the initial issue. We have come to a new way of dealing with moments over the years. We both get silent for a day, no communication. The next day when the air isn’t so thick, we can manage to talk and resolve. I like this best, silence prevents angry words. 🙂

    • Silence followed by resolution is best and I’ll try to remember that’s your preference if the occasion arises. I could not stand feeling disconnected for a whole day and neither could Vic. I wasn’t unhappy if he was away for weeks at a time, but in that case there was no emotional disconnect. Whatever works for each couple, as long as people don’t bust each other up like Humpty Dumpty. Sometimes it amazes me that so many marriages stay together because egos have a way of banging and bumping against each other.

      • I agree, the silence can make for a long uncomfortable day but it gives me time to re-evaluate with a timeout and no regrets of words said in anger. 🙂

        • Oh those words said in anger, but neither Vic nor I went for the jugular vein or said the sorts of things the other person never forgot. We kept it civilized.

  5. Thanks for this honest look at your marriage, Elaine.

    I did not know how to fight fair and usually withdrew when I felt hurt. Or let things simmer until I blew up. Adrian could blow up, too, but always had an apology afterwards.

    I do miss even the bad stuff we had together–because we were together.

    • Yes, that’s the main thing. We were together and going through life’s imperfections together–and we trusted each other. I was not naturally good at conflict resolution, having had no training as a child, but crazy 60’s encounter groups taught me to risk saying how I felt. It worked for us. Thanks for your comment, Lynne.

  6. Now you have me missing sparring with a partner too. And I didn’t even have a good relationship with either of my partners. Oh to have a real partnership where there’s enough trust to keep coming back and keep working things out.

    • We began going to and then leading encounter groups in CA a few months after we were married, Robin. We learned that spitting out the hard stuff before the pressure cooker exploded worked better for us than sniping or ignoring. We learned to share every feeling which meant fear, shame, vulnerability, anger, grief, and failure, as well as all the good stuff. It was a combination of hard work, good fortune, and shared values. Oh yeah, we liked the same food–maybe the most important thing.

  7. Amazing how we carry those same coping skills we learned growing up throughout our lives even though they are no longer necessary
    My father was a serious alcoholic so my mother and I didn’t dare disagree or fight for fear of serious repercussions. I continue this fear, not fighting, not disagreeing, for fear someone will be angry or leave me. I have been married 45 yrs. Does this behavior make sense?? Of course not, only serves to make me depressed for never expressing my feelings!

    • Patt, I have always been grateful that Vic and I spent three years at the beginning of our marriage learning to talk openly about difficulties. It was the 60s. It was a little free form, but I learned that expressing the hard feelings brought discomfort but ended with good results. It would have been another story if I’d received a different reaction to my irrational moments or feared physical or verbal violence. I can only imagine how everyone would hold it tight if they feared the reaction. Your situation may be more usual than mine.

  8. Thanks for sharing so honestly and with such feeling. As we grieve our loss, I think we tend to ignore those days in our marriages (or other relationships) when things were not so perfect. Your honesty is appreciated. Bill and I had our moments, like all couples, and used the tools of our trade most of the time to resolve those times. Then there were those, I have to say rare moments, when we totally forgot that we knew how to deal with our differences in a healthy way, mature :). I, like you, miss it all. He taught me much about dealing with those tough times…

    • Vic’s only instructions for his memorial service were “don’t let them make me sound like an angel.” Sometimes in memory, he becomes a little angelic. He and I had complaints and conflict like everyone–not much and rarely lasting long because we usually dealt with stuff quickly. I miss our grappling with feelings, telling dreams, sharing failure and success, and exploring our reactions to life as well as each other. Yes, I miss it all.

  9. I love this description of married love. Our egos tussle until we learn the needs of the other and can adapt and move forward.

    Your memories of Vic make me grateful for Stuart. Our style is probably more in the middle of the ones described here — not as full as fireworks, perhaps, but also not silent, at least not for a long time.

    This kind of remembrance, complete with the wonderful pictures, shows us the depth of your loss better than angelic gloss ever could.

    • Vic usually looks like the sane one in my stories, Shirley, and he often was. But not always. Outbursts happened rarely, but there was fire behind them pushing us to explore an issue we didn’t want to admit or see. Early on in our relationship, since I had no experience with conscious or open disagreement, I unconsciously tested how far I could trust Vic with my shadow side. Completely, it turned out. We were both in it for the long, long haul.

      I felt we’d done a good job as parents when my sons complained about girlfriends who were unwilling to talk through difficulties. All those family talks on the couch as we worked through parent-child clashes made them appreciate open conflict resolution.

  10. After 3 not so great marriages I met the guy for me! Well into my 60’s I met a man who is the best thing to ever happen to me. He is kind, funny, thoughtful, knows how to stand up for himself and when to back down. He will usually capitulate during an argument, but I never consider it my ‘win’. He cares enough about me to let me have my way on occasion. (even when I am a hot headed mess) and I care enough about him to realize this and appreciate that kindness next time. We don’t argue often; maybe because I think we don’t have the luxury of time to argue over little things-the way we did with others when we were younger. I am grateful for every day I have with this wonderful guy and I think I can truthfully say: I take nothing for granted.
    I enjoy your writing Elaine. And I get how much you miss your wonderful Vic.

    • Leigh, I love reading your success story. It’s a wonderful thing to have a partner and I’m also learning the benefits of life on my own. I love your shining gratitude for what is. Seems like a good plan to take nothing for granted and sounds like you two have good marriage technique. Best to you, Elaine

  11. Elaine – your honesty is both refreshing and inspiring. Not one among us is perfect by any stretch, but isn’t that what life is all about – continuing to grow, learn, be a better human being. Not long ago, I was thinking about someone I was in a long term relationship with years ago. I look at myself, as compared to the person I was back then. And I look at him. From where I stand, he hasn’t evolved at all from where he was 15 years ago. It’s sad. I have a long way to go, but I’m happy to say I’ll never stop working at it.

    • Seems like you’re on the fast track for big transitions. Sounds like you made the right choice. We’ll both keep moving, E

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